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I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.—Ver. 19.
IN the 18th verse David had begged divine illumination, ‘Open mine eyes,’ &c. He doth not desire God to make a plainer law, but to give him a clearer sight. That request he backs with three reasons in the following verses:—
1. His condition in the world, ‘I am a stranger in the earth.’ Strangers in a foreign country need guidance and direction.
2. His earnest affection to the word, ver. 20, ‘My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.’ David had an earnest longing to be acquainted more with the will of God.
3. God’s judgments upon those that contemn the word, ‘Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.’ It is dangerous to walk beside the rule: Rom. i. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,’ &c. God hath owned both tables; he hath punished ungodliness, a violation of the first table; and unrighteousness, a violation of the second table. Here God hath declared how he will own his name, therefore he begs illumination.
Now, the text giveth you this first reason, his condition in the world.
Here observe two things:—
1. A representation of his case, I am a stranger upon earth.
2. His request to God, hide not thy commandments from me.
First, A representation of his case with respect to his quality,—what he was, a stranger; and the place where, upon earth; not in heaven, he was familiar there. And how a stranger upon earth, in point of happiness,—I do not find here that which satisfieth my soul; he had his home, his rest elsewhere; but not in point of service, for he had much work to do.
Doct. God’s children are strangers upon earth, and do so account themselves.
They live here as others do, but they are not at home; their hearts are above, they do not take up their rest here; they are strangers, and account themselves to be so when they have most of worldly conveniences.
First, To open it. Sometimes it may be understood in a literal sense, and sometimes in a moral.
(1.) Sometimes in a literal sense. Thus the patriarchs, that had a wandering life, and were forced to flit from place to place without any certain abode, they confessed themselves to be strangers. Jacob saith, Gen. xlvii. 9, ‘Few and evil have the years of my life been.’ (2.) Morally also, and more generally, it is true of the saints, they are strangers. In some sense it is true of good and bad. We are all travelling into another world, and are every day nearer to eternity. As in a ship, whether men sleep or wake, stand or sit, whether they think of it, yea or nay, the voyage still goes onward. So, whatever we think, and whatever we do, we hasten towards death. In this sense even 174wicked men may be strangers and pilgrims in condition, though not in affection. All men in condition, will they nill they, must into the other world, as they yield to the decays of nature, and every day they are a step nearer to their long home. Heathens have had a sense of this notion. Saith one of them, Ex hac vita discedo tanquam ex hospitio, non tanquam ex domo—I go out of this life as out of an inn. Here we are but passengers, not inhabitants to dwell. But now to be strangers and pilgrims in affection, that is proper to the children of God; Heb. xi. 13-15, it is made the fruit of their faith; ‘Because they were persuaded of the promises, therefore they confessed themselves pilgrims and strangers on earth.’ The voice of nature saith, It is good to be here; let God do with heaven what he pleaseth. Natural men are contented with their present portion, and cannot endure to think of change; and therefore, though they are travelling to eternity, yet they are not pilgrims in affection. But now God’s children are so in condition and in affection too; they count heaven their home, and the world to be a strange place. They are pilgrims in affection in a threefold regard:—
1. Because they are most sensible of their frailty. The frailty of the present life is a common lesson, but not easily believed. None have such a sense of it upon their hearts as they that are taught by God: Ps. xc. 12, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom;’ and, ‘Teach me to know how frail I am,’ saith David. Worldly men, though they are of this opinion, and can not deny it, yet they do not consider it; in seeing they see not; their minds are taken up with other things; they are not sensible.
2. The term is proper to the children of God, because they are un satisfied with their present estate; they would not abide here for ever if God would give them leave. Wicked men are pilgrims against their will; but saints are ever looking for, longing for, groaning for a better estate: Rom. viii. 23, ‘We which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.’ They desire and ‘groan to be clothed upon,’ 2 Cor. v. 2.
3. The notion is most proper to them, because they have an interest in a better inheritance. Wicked men are sure to go out of the world, but they are not sure to go to heaven. Now, the children of God they know there is an inheritance kept for them; here they have the right, but there they shall have the possession, 1 John iii. 1. So that well might I form the point thus: That godly men are, and count themselves to be, strangers and pilgrims upon earth. Others are in a journey, but they are not sensible of it, and they have no home to go to, and no desire to part with the world.
Now take some instances of this. That this is proper to God’s children to count the world a strange place, and heaven to be their home. Those that had the best right and the greatest possessions here, they will do so; those that had the greatest right: Heb. xi. 9, ‘Abraham sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country.’ What right could there be greater than that which was demised and made over to him by God? Yet in the land of promise he lived as in a strange place. So David here, and in other places, that had so ample 175a possession; he was king over, an opulent and flourishing kingdom; yet, Ps. xxxix. 12, ‘I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.’ Not only he that was a wandering partridge, and flitted up and down; but David that was settled in a throne, he that was so powerful and victorious a prince. But you will say, Possibly David might speak thus when he was chased like a flea upon the mountains, when he was hunted to and fro like a partridge. No; but when he had peace, and was fully settled in the throne; when he could offer so many cart-loads of gold and silver, 2 Chron. xxix. 13; then he doth acknowledge, ‘Lord, I am a stranger.’ Jesus Christ, who was Lord paramount, he tells us, ‘I am not of this world,’ John xvii. 14. He was ‘a stranger to his brethren, and an alien among his mother’s children,’ Ps. lxix. 8. He that was Lord of all had neither house nor home. He passed through the world to sanctify it for a place of service; but his heart and constant residence was not here, to fix it as in a place of rest. And so all that are Christ’s have the spirit of Christ, and say, as David in the text, ‘I am a stranger upon earth.’ We do not dwell upon earth, but only pass through it.
But why do the children of God count themselves to be strangers here?
1. They are born elsewhere. Everything tends to the place of their original, as men love their native soil; things bred in the water return thither; inanimate things tend to their centre; a stone will fall to the ground, though it be broken in pieces with the fall; wind that is imprisoned in the bowels of the earth raiseth terrible convulsions and earthquakes until it get up to its own place. All things seek to return thither from whence they came. And so grace, which came from heaven, it carrieth the soul thither again: ‘Jerusalem from above is the mother of us all.’ Heaven is our native country, and therefore thither is the tendency and aim of the gracious soul that is born from above. It is very notable that contempt of the world is usually made the fruit of our regeneration: 1 John v. 4, ‘Whosoever is born of God overcometh the world;’ and 2 Peter i. 4, ‘Made partakers of the divine nature, that we might escape the corruptions of the world through lust.’ There is somewhat of God in it then; and that which comes from God carries the soul thither where God is. In the new nature there is a strong inclination which disposeth us to look after another world; therefore it is said, ‘Begotten to a lively hope,’ 1 Peter i. 3. As soon as we are made children, we begin to look after a child’s portion. There is another aim when we are born again; then the heart is carried out to God.
2. There lies their inheritance: Eph. i. 3, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.’ Why! he hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in earthly places. Why is it said only ‘in heavenly places’? There was their beginning, and there is their accomplishment. The main thing Christ aimed at was that we might be translated to heavenly places. Christ will set us high enough, and therefore he will not give us our portion in the world; that is an un quiet place. Here we are not out of gunshot and harm’s way. He would not give it us in an earthly paradise; there Adam enjoyed God among beasts. He would give it us in the most glorious manner, that 176we might enjoy God among the angels. The world is not a fit place. Here God will show his bounty to all his children. It is a common inn, where sons and bastards are entertained; a place of trial, not of recompense; God’s footstool, and not his throne, Isa. lxvi. 1. The world is Satan’s walk, the devil’s circuit: ‘Whence comest thou? From compassing the earth,’ Job i. A place defiled with sin, Isa. xxiv. 5; ‘given to the children of men,’ Ps. cxv. 16. Here God will show his bounty to all his creatures, to beasts, and to all kinds of men. It is sometimes the slaughter-house and shambles of the saints: they are ‘slain upon earth,’ Rev. xviii. 24; a receptacle for elect and repro bate. Therefore here they have not their blessing; our inheritance lies elsewhere.
3. There are all our kindred. Ubi pater, ibi patria—where our father is, there our country is. Now when we pray, we say to him, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ There are we strangers, where we are absent from God, Christ, and glorified saints; and while we are here upon earth we have not such enjoyment of God. There is our Father; it is his house. Heaven is called our Father’s house; and there is ‘our elder brother:’ Col. iii. 1, ‘Set your hearts upon things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God;’ and there is the best of our kindred and family: ‘They shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ Mat. viii. 11. Well, then, the children of God, they count themselves to be strangers here, because their kindred are elsewhere.
4. There they abide longest. That we account our home where we abide. An inn cannot be called our home, where we come but for a night, and away; but now there we are ‘for ever with the Lord.’ Here we are in motion, there in rest. The world must be surely left. If we had a certain term of years fixed, yet it would be very short in comparison of eternity. All the time we spend here it is but a night, but a moment, in comparison of eternity. We live longest in the other world, and therefore there is our home: Micah ii. 10, ‘Arise, depart hence; this is not your rest.’ God speaks it of the land of Canaan, when they had polluted it with sin. It is true of all the world. Sin hath brought in death, and there must be a riddance. It is but a passage from danger. Israel dwelt first in a wandering camp, before they came to dwell in cities and walled towns; and the apostle alludes to that, ‘Here we have no abiding city; we look for one to come.’ As the Israelites did look for walled towns and cities of the Amorites to be possessed by them, so here we have but a wandering camp, we look for a city. And mark, as it was with them in their outward estate, so in the mysteries of their religion; they were first seated in a tabernacle, and then in a temple: in a tabernacle, which was a figure of the church; then in a temple, which was a figure of heaven; for you know, as in the temple there were three partitions—the outward court, the holy place, and the holy of holies—so there are three heavens. The third heaven Paul speaks of—‘the heaven of heavens’; and there is the starry heaven, and the airy heaven, the outward court. This life being so frail, so fickle, we can not call our abode here our home. ‘What is your life?’ saith the apostle; ‘it is but as a vapour,’ James iv. 14; a little warm breath 177turned in and out by the nostrils: Job vii. 1, ‘Is there not an ap pointed time for man upon earth? His days are as the days of an hireling.’ A hired servant you do not intend should live with you for ever; you hire him for a day or two, and when he hath ended his work, he receives his wages and is gone. So all our days are but a little while; we do our service, and then we must be gone. Actors, when they have finished their parts, are seen no more. They go within the curtain. So when we have fulfilled our course, God furnisheth the world with a new scene of acts and actors.
5. The necessary exercise of their graces doth make them count their lives here but a pilgrimage, and themselves but strangers upon earth, viz., faith, love, hope.
[1.] Faith shows the truth and the worth of things to come. Faith will make them strangers: Heb. xi. 13, ‘They saw these things and were persuaded of them, and they counted themselves pilgrims and strangers.’ Oh! were we persuaded of things to come, we would be hasting towards them. We cry, Home, home! We talk of heaven and eternity, but we do not believe them. Sense and reason cannot out-see time, nor look above the clouds and mists of the lower world, ‘afar off,’ in the apostle’s phrase, 2 Peter i. 9; but faith shows the truth of things to come. We that are here upon earth, when we look to heaven, the stars seem to us but so many spangles. Oh! but when we get into heaven and look downward, the world then will seem but as a molehill. That which now to sense seems such a glorious thing will be as nothing.
[2.] The love of Christ which is in the saints makes them to account themselves as strangers. A child of God cannot be satisfied with things here below, because his love is set upon God. Two things the heart looks after, as soon as it is awakened by grace, and love puts us upon them both, viz., a perfect enjoyment of God, and a perfect obedience to God. (1.) That they may be with God and Christ. The saints have heard much of Christ, read much of him, tasted and felt much of him; they would fain see him, and be with him, Phil. i. 23. If they had the choicest contentment the world could afford, this would not satisfy them so much as to be there ‘where Christ is, and to be hold his glory.’ The apostle thinks this to be motive enough to a gracious heart to seek things above, for there ‘Christ is at the right hand of God;’ love will catch hold of that, Col. iii. 1. The place is lovely for Christ’s sake. Love will not suffer them to count this to be their home. Though Christ is present with them now spiritually while they are here, yet the presence and nearness is but distance, but a kind of absence, compared with that which is to come; and therefore this very presence doth not quench their desires, but kindles them, and sets them a-longing for more. All the presence, the communion, the sight of Christ they get now, is but mediate, through the glass of the ordinance, 1 Cor. xiii. 12; and it is frequently interrupted, his face is many times hidden, Ps. xxx. 7; and it is not full, as it shall be there, Ps. xvi. 11. But now in heaven it will be immediate; God will be ‘all in all;’ and there it will be constant, ‘they shall be ever with the Lord;’ and there they shall be ‘satisfied with his likeness,’ Ps. xvii. 15; then they shall enjoy his presence indeed. So that love 178 upon these considerations sets them a-longing and groaning. (2.) As love makes them desire the company of Christ, so entire subjection to God; they would have perfect grace and freedom from sin, therefore are ever groaning,—Oh! when shall we be rid of this body of death? Rom. vii. 23. There is a final perfect estate for which the new creature was made, and they are ever tending towards that happy state wherein they shall grieve God no more.
[3.] Hope was made for things to come, especially for our full and final happiness. God fits us with graces as well as happiness; not only grants us a glorious estate, but gives us grace to expect it. Hope would be of no use if it did not lift up the head, and look out for a better estate than the world yieldeth. Hope fastens upon God’s title in the covenant, ‘I am thy God.’ Now God could not with honour take this title, and give us no better than present things: Heb. xi. 16, ‘Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city,’ Mark the apostle’s reason. Many expound these words so as if the meaning were but this, that they did only express God’s condescension, that he would take his title, not from the potentates of the world, but from a few wandering patriarchs; that God was not ashamed to be called their God. Alas! the words have a quite other sense. Rather it expresseth an answerable bounty: unless the Lord would give them something answerable to their hopes, more than was visible in the lives of the patriarch, God would be ashamed to be called their God. Do but look upon the slenderness of their condition. If that he gave them in the world were all their reward, what is this to own that magnificent title, ‘I am the God of Abraham,’ &c. No; now he hath something better than all the honours and riches of the world; now he may fitly be called their God. Christ builds the doctrine of the resurrection upon the same argument, ‘God is the God of Abraham,’ &c.; therefore they shall have a blessed estate in soul and body, Mat. xxii. 32. To be a God to any, is to be a benefactor, and that according to the extent and largeness of an infinite and eternal power.
Use 1. Are you strangers and pilgrims? David, and such as he was, that were of his stamp, counted themselves strangers upon earth. If you be so—
1. You will always be drawing home, and would not desire to stay long from Christ. A traveller would pass over his journey as soon as he can, and be hastening homeward: Phil. i. 23, ‘I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.’ Is there any looking, longing, waiting for your blessed estate? It is no hard matter to get a Christian out of the world; his better part is gone already, his heart is there. Do your hearts draw homeward? Are your desires stronger and stronger every day after eternal life? Natural motion grows swifter and swifter still, as it draws nearer and nearer its centre. So certainly a Christian, if he had the motions of the new nature, he would be drawing homeward more every day.
2. What provision do you make for another world if you are strangers? Many bestow all their labour and travail about earthly things, and neglect their precious and immortal souls. They are at home; all their care is that they may live well here. O Christians! 179what provision do you make for heaven? A traveller doth not buy such things as he cannot carry with him, as trees, houses, household stuff; but jewels, pearls, and such as are portable. Our wealth doth not follow us into the other world, but our works do. We are travelling to a country whose commodities will not be bought with gold and silver, and therefore are we storing ourselves for heaven, for such things as are current there. Men that make a voyage to the Indies will carry such wares as are acceptable there, else they do nothing. Do you make it your business every day to get clearer evidences for heaven, to treasure up a good foundation, 1 Tim. vi. 19; and do you labour every day to grow more meet for heaven, Col. i. 12. That is the great work of a Christian, to get evidences and a meetness for heaven. These are the months of our purification; we are now to cleanse ourselves for the embraces of the great God. When we grow more mortified, strict, holy, heavenly, then we ripen apace, and hasten home ward: Ps. lxxxiv. 7, ‘They shall go on from strength to strength,’ &c. Every degree of grace it is a step nearer; and therefore do you grow more meet for this blessed estate.
3. In the fulness of your worldly enjoyments do you mind your country? He that was going pilgrim to Jerusalem, cried out, Oh, this is not the holy city! So, whatever enjoyments you have, do your hearts call you off, and say, Soul, this is not thy rest; this is not that thou shouldst take comfort in; thou art bound for heaven? Do you miss your country and your parents? The men of the world would have their portion here, here is their rest; but when you have most of the world at will, are you strangers? 1 Cor. vii. 31, ‘Using this world as not abusing it;’ that is, so making use of God’s bounty as expecting a greater happiness. How do we use the world as not abusing it? When we use it as a type, as a motive, and as a help to heaven. As a kind of type, the enjoyment of temporal things should stir us up to a more serious consideration of heavenly; as the prodigal’s husks put him in mind of bread in his father’s house. The company of your relations puts you in mind of the company of God and Christ. The cities of the Amorites, their walled towns, put the patriarchs in mind of a city which had foundations, Heb. xi. 16. If an earthly city be so glorious, what is the heavenly city? These are the comforts of a strange place. You abuse them when you forget home, and therefore take heed; if the creature be sweet, heaven is better. And when you use them as a motive to serve God more cheerfully, the more you find him a good master: 1 Tim. vi. 17, ‘Trust in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;’ to make you more earnest in good works. 2 Sam. vii. 2, saith David there, ‘I dwell in a house of cedar, and the ark of God within curtains.’ When you have such kind of reasonings stirred up within you What do I for God, that hath enlarged my house here? And when you use them as a help, your worldly enjoyments as instruments of piety and. charity. Here is a man’s trial, what he doth in a full condition, whether his heart be for home still, yea or nay; when he hath the world at will, if then he be treasuring up a good foundation, and encouraging himself to serve God faithfully.
4. What is your solace in your affliction, and the inconveniences 180that you meet with in your pilgrimage? Doth this comfort you—Home will pay for all? Heb. x. 34, ‘Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and enduring substance.’ Do you reckon upon a more enduring substance? Though the world frown upon you as a step-mother, yet you remember you have a better home. From whence do you fetch your supports in any cross? Doth this comfort you in the midst of the molestations of the world? They do not know your birth, your breeding, your hopes, nor your expectations. Strangers may be abused in a foreign place; when we come home, this will be forgotten. The saints walk up and down like a prince that travels abroad in disguise; though he be slighted, abused, he doth not appear what he shall be. You have a glorious inheritance reserved for you; this is your cordial and the reviving of your souls, and that which doth your heart good to think of; and so you can be contented to suffer loss and inconveniences upon these hopes. The discourse between Modestus, a governor under Valens, and Basil, in Nazianzen his twentieth Oration, is very notable. I shall only transcribe what is exactly to the purpose in hand. When he threatened him with banishment, I know no banishment, saith he, who know no abiding-place here in the world. I do not count this place mine, nor can I say the other is not mine; rather all is God’s, whose stranger and pilgrim I am. This was that which supported him in the midst of those threatenings. Therefore from whence do you fetch your support.
5. If religion be kept up in height and majesty, the world will count you strangers, they will stand wondering at your conversation, 1 Peter iv. 4. Men gaze upon those that come hither in a foreign habit, that do not conform to the fashions of the country; and so a child of God is wondered at, that walks in a counter-motion to the studies and practices of other men, as one that is not conformed to the world, Rom. xii. 2. What do you discover of the spirit of your country, so as to convince others?
This much by way of inquiry, namely, whether we are strangers, yea or nay?
Use 2. Behave yourselves as strangers here upon earth.
1. Avoid ‘fleshly lusts,’ 1 Peter ii. 11; these cloud the eye, and besot the heart, and make us altogether for a present good; they weaken our desires of heaven. It is the apostle’s argument, ‘As strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts.’ The flesh-pots of Egypt made Israel to despise Canaan; and so this is that which will take off our hearts from things to come, from the inheritance of the saints in light, and from that blessed estate God hath promised.
2. Grasp not at too much of the world; but what comes with a fair providence upon honest endeavours, accept with thanks: 1 Tim. vi. 9, ‘They that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare,’ &c. The devil hath you upon the hip, when you make that your business and scope; not he that is, but will be rich, that fixes that as his scope. Then the heart is filled with sins, and the head with cares.
3. If an estate comes in slowly, remember, a little will serve our turns to heaven; more would be but a burden and snare. Those that 181have their portion here, most of worldly things, what do they get by it? A little belly-cheer, Ps. xvii. 14, ‘and they leave the rest to their babes.’ Dainty cheer is no great matter; and to leave our posterity great is but to leave them in a snare. Children are under a providence and a covenant as well as we, and it is blasphemous to think we can provide for them better than God.
4. If God give abundance, rest not in it with a carnal complacency: Ps. lxii. 10, ‘If riches increase, set not your heart on them.’ Suffer not thy heart to rejoice in them as your only portion, so as to grow proud of them, so as to count them your good things, Luke xvi. 25; you that are strangers have better things to mind.
5. Keep up a warm respect to your everlasting home. It is not enough to despise the world, but you must look after a better country. Many of a slight temper may despise worldly profits; their corruptions do not run out that way: Heb. xiii. 14, ‘We have here no abiding city, but we seek one to come.’ Desires, thoughts, and groans, these are the harbingers of the soul that we send into the land of promise. By this means we tell God that we would be at home.
6. Enjoy as much of heaven as you can in your pilgrimage, in ordinances, in the first-fruits of the Spirit, in communion with saints, Grace is but young glory, and joy in the Holy Ghost is the suburbs of heaven; and therefore you should get somewhat of your country before you come at it. As the winds do carry the odours and sweet smells of Arabia into the neighbouring provinces, so by the breathings of the Holy Ghost upon our hearts do we get a smell of the upper paradise; it is in some measure begun in us before we can get thither; and therefore enjoy as much of heaven as possibly you can in the time of your pilgrimage. We have our taste here; it is begun in union with Christ, and in the work of grace upon the heart. And in ordinances. Prayer brings us to the throne of grace; it gives us an entrance into God’s presence: Heb. x. 19, the apostle calls it, ‘a boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.’ A Christian enters heaven while he is here in the world. In the word preached heaven is brought down to us. The gospel is called the kingdom of heaven. And by reading we do as it were converse with the saints departed, that writ what we read. Meditation brings us into the company of God; it puts our heads above the clouds, in the midst of blessed spirits there. As if we saw Jesus Christ upon the throne, and his saints triumphing about him. Communion of saints is heaven begun; therefore you that are strangers should much delight there. A man that is abroad would be glad to meet with his own country men; we should be glad of company to go with us to heaven; these are to be our companions for evermore, therefore we should converse with them here.
Secondly, I proceed to the latter clause, ‘Hide not thy commandments from me.’ Here is his request. To make short work of it, I shall endeavour to make out the connection and sense of these words in these propositions.
1. Every man here upon earth, especially a godly man, is but a stranger and passenger. Every man is so in point of condition; he must go hence, and quit all his enjoyments in the world—wicked men 182whether they will or no; but a godly man is so in affection, and can not be satisfied with his present state. This I have insisted upon.
2. It concerns him that is a stranger to look after a better and more durable state. Every man should do so. He that lives here for a while is concerned; his greatest care should be for that place where he lives longest; therefore eternity should be his scope. A godly man will do so. Those whose hearts are not set upon earthly things, they must have heaven. The more their affections are estranged from the one, the more they are taken up about the other, Col. iii. 2. Heaven and earth are like two scales in a balance; that which is taken from the one is put into the other.
3. There is no sufficient direction how to attain this durable estate but in the word of God. Without this we are but like poor pilgrims and wayfaring men in a strange country, not able to discern the way home. A blessed state is only sufficiently revealed in the word: 2 Tim. i. 10, ‘Life and immortality is brought to light in the gospel.’ The heathens did but guess at it, and had some obscure sense of an estate after this life; but it is brought to light with most clearness in the word; so the way thither is only pointed out by the word. It is the word of God makes us wise to salvation, and our line and rule to lead us to the heavenly Canaan; and therefore it concerns those that look after this durable state, to consult with the word.
4. There is no understanding God’s word but by the light of the Spirit: Job xxxii. 8, ‘There is a spirit in man; but the inspiration of the Almighty, that giveth understanding.’ Though the word have light in it, yet the spirit of man cannot move till he enlightens us with that lively light that makes way for the dominion of the truth in our hearts, and conveyeth influence into our hearts. This is that light David begs when he saith, ‘Hide not thy commandments from me.’ David was not ignorant of the ten commandments, of their sound; but he begs their spiritual sense and use.
5. If we would have the Spirit, we must ask it of God in prayer; for God ‘gives the Spirit to those that ask him,’ Luke xi. 13; and therefore we must say, as David, Ps. xliii. 3, ‘Oh, send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me to thy holy hill, to thy tabernacle.’
6. When we beg it of God, we must do it with submission to his sovereignty, and with subscription to his justice. Therefore doth David use this manner of speech, ‘Hide not thy commandments from me.’ God doth hide when he doth not open our eyes to see. Now the Lord may choose whether he will do this or no; for he is sovereign, and may in justice forbear to do so, because we have abused the light we have; it will be hid from us unless he reveal it. The mystery of grace is wholly at God’s dispose; and whosoever begs it, he must refer himself to the holy and sovereign good pleasure of God, who may give out and withhold his efficacious grace according to his pleasure: Mat. xi. 25, 26, ‘I thank thee, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Here is the Lord’s sovereignty; he doth in these things as he pleaseth; therefore David submits to it. And then it implies, it may be just with 183God to leave us unto our natural blindness, and suffer Satan to blind us more. It is fully consistent with the honour of his justice; therefore it is said, John xii. 40, ‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts,’ &c.; that is, judicially, suffering them to increase their own blindness by their sin; blindness, that is their sin; and the Lord may leave it as a judgment upon them.
Use. Here is direction to you that know you are but pilgrims. The great thing you should seek after is the straightest way to heaven. If you have a sense of eternity, and a sense of your present frailty, you should look how to get home to your country. To this end—
1. Study the word. Why? This is your antidote against infection, and a cordial to cheer us in the way. It is an antidote against infection: 2 Peter i. 4, ‘By the promises we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.’ The world is an infectious place; therefore you had need take the promises next your heart to keep your hopes alive. And here is your cordial to keep you from fainting, that which makes you to rejoice in the midst of present afflictions, Ps. cxix. 54. It is a cordial to cheer us up, to revive us in the way, till we come to our journey’s end. This will make up losses, sweeten difficulties, allay your sorrows. Then it is your direction, the way to lead you home: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a light to my feet and a lantern to my paths.’ We shall soon pass over this life; all our care should be to pass it over well, there are so many by-paths in the world, and in a strange place we may soon miscarry.
2. Entreat the Lord of his abundant grace to pity poor strangers, who are ignorant; and desire him he would not hide his word from you, that you may walk in the nearest, closest way wherein he would have you walk. He may hide it from you as an absolute supreme Lord, for he is bound to give his grace to none; and he may do it as a just judge; he may leave you to your own infatuations and prejudices. Say, Lord, pity a poor stranger and pilgrim.
The word may be hidden two ways, and take care of both:—
1. In point of external administration, when the powerful means are wanting. Oh! it is a great mark of God’s displeasure, when men are given up by their own choice to blind guides, to those that have no skill or no will to edify, or no abilities rightly to divide the word of truth; only fill the ear with clamour and noise, but do not inform conscience, or move the heart by solid and powerful instruction from the word of God.
2. In point of internal influence, when the comforts and quickenings of the Spirit are withholden: ‘Lord, withhold not thy Spirit from me.’
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